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How can data bring marketers closer to their customers in demanding times?

CMOs need to leverage consumer and market data to build purpose-driven brands and turn crisis into opportunity

Whether your company is launching a new phone or coffee machine, or looking to persuade customers to upgrade their laptops, understanding what makes customers buy is at the heart of business success. For example, according to research by market, consumer and brand intelligence insights firm GfK, 56% of consumers will select a brand because it supports a cause and 65% of consumers think that experiences are more important than possessions.

Today’s marketers live in a new reality where disruptions in markets, customer behaviour and world events occur practically overnight. Yet, at the same time, a third of Americans say we need more change, not less. Customers who have adopted digital shopping increasingly expect fast, personalised service and constant innovation.

The key to meeting sometimes ambiguous or confusing consumer demands lies in better data, insights and analytics. Some 80% of CMOs surveyed by GfK believe that data, analytics and insights are very important to winning and retaining customers. However, only a third say they’re confident in the reliability of their existing data, and 60% of marketers surveyed by the CMO Council (CMOC) in 2020 said their data around customer insights was inconsistent in depth or granularity.

To help clarify these needs and chart a path toward the future, GfK and the CMOC have partnered in a new content series in 2022, ‘Signals from the Noise’, based on interviews with over 300 senior marketers worldwide. A new report will be published in July – but what can be said today about the gaps between marketers and data?

What’s needed are smarter data tools that support consumer, market and brand/marketing strategies in complex, fast-moving global markets. Existing data and analytics systems that rely solely on historical trends are no longer good enough at helping marketers predict and prepare for such disruptions. Marketers need powerful user-intuitive data and analytics systems to get ahead of the next disruption.

Do you really know why customers buy from you, or why they might not? You can’t afford to just trust your gut anymore

This means marketing departments taking ownership of customer, market and brand data. “Traditionally, marketing data has been the responsibility of the data scientists and market researchers, and the output was often a quarterly presentation to the board of some PowerPoint slides,” says Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva, global chief marketing officer at GfK. “It’s been the preserve of the specialists, not the people inside the business.”

Today’s marketing departments need access to up-to-date insights on a monthly or weekly basis. Pandemics, global events and a fast-moving social media landscape mean a product or issue can blow up and disrupt a marketplace in a matter of days. The question for marketing leaders is, are we getting insights – on consumers, markets and brands – and adapting our strategy to meet customer needs faster than our competitors?

With the rise of AI, companies like GfK are building real-time platforms such as gfknewron that provide fast access to data without the need for specialist data science skills. “What we’re seeing is a democratisation of data, so that you can get the information you need to make better strategic decisions more quickly,” says Garcia Villanueva.

For example, a company launching a new household appliance could use marketing data from GfK to understand how important battery life is to the average consumer in a market, or how concern about sustainability compares for consumers within markets in the same region. 

Today it’s possible to capture billions of data points but the crux is to extract insights from the data,” says Garcia Villanueva. “With gfknewron, you can slice and visualise the data exactly the way you need, whether that’s for understanding price elasticity in one market, or looking at which markets will pay £100 more for a washing machine that lets you add socks in the middle of the wash.”

This insight can be used to drive more effective pricing and marketing strategies, allowing companies to tailor everything from retail partnerships to advertising copy to meet customer expectations and drive better brand performance. It’s also a way to understand your brand’s strengths and weaknesses in a market. “Do you really know why customers buy from you, or why they might not?” says Garcia Villanueva. “You can’t afford to just trust your gut anymore. You need data, and it needs to be timely.”

Whilst data scientists have an important role to play, today’s data dashboards can be used by marketing teams without the need for specialist skills. Marketing teams can now have access to insights that are updated weekly, capturing millions of data points and presenting AI-driven insights in easy-to-understand formats. Data can be viewed by region, product and even down to specific features – without needing to create complex, time-consuming reports.

Accessing the right tools is only half the story. Organisations will only realise the full benefit of data insights if they also build a data-driven culture. This means moving away from the common quarterly report culture to one that demands always-on insights to support faster, more frequent decision-making.

“A tool like gfknewron provides amazing data, but if you only give it to the market research team, and they put it into slides and share that each quarter with country managers, you’ve lost the opportunity to capture an opportunity or hedge against a new risk,” says Garcia Villanueva. CMOs must be reviewing data insights weekly, if not daily, to ensure decisions are made quickly, frequently and supported by high-quality, reliable data.

Data-driven cultures also support the changing role of the modern CMO. “With the right insights being shared with the right people, the CMO becomes a key voice within the C-suite,” says Garcia Villanueva. “Marketing is uniquely positioned to be close to the customer and understand how they are responding to the company’s actions. A data-enabled CMO becomes a critical part of the mission to build a purpose-driven company that speaks to the customers’ values and aspirations.”

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